In the modern pharmaceutical industry, encapsulation methods, or what they use as capsule material, to aid the metabolism of drugs is pretty much set in stone.  There are two basic types of capsules, hard and soft. Researchers from Purdue University have taken it upon themselves to shake up the foundation of capsule technology and have developed a smart capsule capable of dropping a payload of medicine to parts of the GI (gastrointestinal) tract which are generally inaccessible.

Why simple capsules don’t cut it

Most hard and soft drug capsules are made out of either gelatin or cellulose. The purpose of capsules is to increase speed of the drug’s effect and improve drug absorption. Also, they’re easy to swallow and are tasteless. Capsule materials and design haven’t evolved very much in the past years, but the drugs that can be encapsulated have. Where capsules, tablets and other delivery methods are lacking is the ability to get drugs to the lower GI tract. This is the reason scientists from Purdue University actively sought out a way to guide drugs to the large intestine.

Smart Capsule guided drug delivery system

As you can see on the image above, the capsule isn’t any bigger than ones you’ve seen and possibly ingested before. But what sets it apart is the high-tech electrical components which allow it to accurately and efficiently deliver drugs to parts of the GI tract where drugs normally can’t get to because they are metabolized and absorbed in other areas. The new smart capsule can help with treating diseases of the large intestine like Crohn’s disease, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and specifically Clostridium difficile colitis. Treatment for C. difficile infection is difficult and not always successful. Additional modern treatment methods for this bothersome bacterium include stool transplant, where stool from a healthy individual is transferred to one suffering from C. difficile. With improving technology it may be possible to get the stool material into a pill for easier delivery with the smart capsule.

How the smart capsule works

The capsule employs smart electrical components which act like a lock to a key, the key being a magnet. When a magnet is waved over the intended target area, an internal mechanism opens up the drug compartment of the capsule like a spring, releasing the payload with maximum effectiveness. It’s designed to survive the trip through the GI tract to the ileocecal valve, where the large and small intestines meet, traveling by peristalsis (the natural wave-like movement of the gastrointestinal tract).

Evolution is taking place all around us

With evolving technologies and interest in improving quality of life for patients suffering from chronic conditions, ideas like the smart capsule are born. Because drugs are metabolized and absorbed before they reach their target location, the large intestine, the dosage of the drugs has to be higher, which may cause certain consequences. With this capsule, you can deliver medication to the spot where it’s needed, bypassing the upper GI tract and liver. As more pharmaceutical companies catch on to this, more people suffering will find solace in this wonderful invention.

Below is a video of the experiment where one can see the capsule moving along a simulated GI tract with a magnet in place to activate release of the staff. "Blausen gallery 2014". Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN20018762.

By Dr. Yuriy Sarkisov, BiMedis staff writer